Four Responses to Adversity

You know how when you type something into Google, it auto-completes for you? It drives me crazy. Just because I searched that one time for the current net worth of Zach from “Saved by the Bell” doesn’t mean I’m searching for that every time I type in the word “current.” (It’s $9M, by the way. You’re welcome.)

As frustrating as I find the auto-fill feature, I get why it’s there. Google knows that we follow patterns, so it auto-fills our search bar according to how we’ve trained it.

The same thing is true with how you respond to adversity. Your heart auto-fills your response based on the patterns you’ve established.

The prophet Daniel was utterly trustworthy in all that he did in six decades of public service, so when King Darius’ administrators wanted to bring a charge against him (in Daniel 6), the only weak spot they could find was built around Daniel’s faith and the king’s ego. They basically told Darius, “Your subjects need to learn that they can depend on you for everything, so let’s make a rule that for 30 days people can only bring their needs to you. In 30 days, they’ll see how amazing and all-sufficient you are.” And, of course, anyone who did not follow this law would be thrown into the lions’ den.

“When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10 CSB).

Daniel had established a habit of praying three times a day for more than 70 years.

He’d done it in Daniel 1 when they tried to force him to eat forbidden foods.

He’d done it in chapter 2 when the king threatened to kill all the wise men because no one could interpret his dream.

His friends had done it in Daniel 3 when Nebuchadnezzar tried to force them to bow down to his golden image.

If you keep reading in the book of Daniel, you find him at prayer again in chapters 9 and 10.

Whenever Daniel had been in trouble or felt threatened, he’d turned to God in prayer. This response was as natural to him as breathing.

What’s your instinct when trouble comes—when your spouse is not treating you fairly and it’s just not getting any better or you feel like you’re being pressured at your job or school to do the wrong thing?

Our responses usually fit into one of four categories.

1. Panic

You get scared and you cave, thinking there’s no way out, the pressure is too strong, and you’ll be an outcast if you don’t do the popular thing. But you’re never trapped in a situation with only bad options. God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

2. Pride

This one is tricky because it can look like bold faith, because you say, “I will not yield to you. I can overcome this.” The difference between this response and faith is that when you peel back the layers of pride, what you find is not a humble dependence on God but a heart of self-sufficiency. This is more of an “I’m better than you” and “you can’t beat me” attitude than an “I’m going to do what God wants and trust him with the results” one.

3. Preemptive Strike

You protect yourself by fighting. If someone plays dirty, then you play dirtier. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. When Daniel found out about this law, he could have tried to engineer some political trick to get back at them. Quid pro quo is how most of us try to survive. We live in peace with others through “mutually assured destruction.” Many people even carry this approach into their marriage: The way they keep their spouse from hurting them is by making it clear that if hurt, they’ll hurt back.

4. Prayer

This is Daniel’s approach: lay your problems at God’s feet, because you belong to him, which means your problems also belong to him. All you’re responsible for is what God tells you to do.

This is such a peaceful way to live. Jesus described the Christian life as easy—not because it is all sunshine and giggles and roses, but because Jesus says we are “yoked up” with him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me … and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV).

A yoke typically has places for two oxen, and they pull the load together. If one ox is stronger, the other gets the benefit of his strength. Imagine you had to pull a tractor-trailer while yoked, but strapped in next to you was the world’s strongest man. The load might not seem that heavy to you, because the stronger guy is pulling so much of the weight. It might even seem to you like you are just out taking a walk.

So it is with Jesus. When you trust in him, he shoulders the weight of your marriage problems, work problems, parenting problems, and all your personal struggles. In each of these things, he carries the weight; you’re responsible only to do what he directs you to do.

Panic, pride, preemptive strike, or prayer. What’s your default? What auto-fills the search bar of your heart when hard times come?

Daniel chose prayer because he trusted in God, and that evening he prayed as peacefully as he had every other time. You won’t find that kind of peace in any other approach.